Infrequent use of and delayed presentation to professional services have increased the burden of mental illness in minority ethnic communities. Within the growing literature on informal carers, the Chinese remain relatively unstudied. This article reports a qualitative study of 14 carers to explore illness representations of affective disorders in British Chinese communities. Firstly, it places the study within a theoretical framework that permits an understanding of mental health and illness in different sociocultural belief systems. Next, it presents carers' narrative accounts in conceptualising mental illness, including its causes, manifestations and impact on patients and carers, and contextualises the findings within the existing literature. Finally, the article examines how the caring role may be constructed from the broader social experience of carers and their relationships within a community structure that values the group over the individual. Coping mechanisms are discussed in the context of the practice of caring as a moral obligation and of policy implications for more culturally appropriate support services for both Chinese carers and mental health patients.